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4 baltimore Orioles
Jeff Pearlman
March 27, 2000
III-spent dough and chemistry woes spell another bleak year for the aging O's
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March 27, 2000

4 Baltimore Orioles

III-spent dough and chemistry woes spell another bleak year for the aging O's

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by the numbers

1999 Team Statistics (AL rank)

1999 record: 78-84 (fourth in AL East)

Batting average

.279 (6)

Opponents' batting average

.269 (4)

Runs scored

851 (8)

ERA

4.77 (4)

Home runs

203 (7)

Fielding percentage

.986 (1)

Last season the Baltimore Orioles were a bad team that spent a lot of money ($84 million, second most in the American League). This season the Baltimore Orioles will be a bad team that spends a lot of money—just not quite as much ($75 million). Generally, bad teams with deep pockets make big changes. The Orioles? Well, they fired in-over-his-head manager Ray Miller and replaced him with former Cleveland skipper Mike Hargrove, who led the Indians to five straight AL Central titles, if not a World Series title. They brought in three new coaches and a handful of graying veterans. Last spring training the players' locker room buffet included Oreos. This spring it was Chips Ahoy.

That's it?

That's it.

That's all?

That's all.

Baltimore has problems, not the least of which is a thoroughly unlikable, dysfunctional clubhouse. Albert Belle snarls, rants and occasionally threatens to maim spindly reporters. Will Clark—who fell only 119 RBIs short of Rafael Palmeiro, the man he replaced at first base last year—never shuts up. Delino DeShields sulks. Scott Erickson bitches. The one guy who could make everyone (even Belle) giggle like schoolgirls from time to time, left-handed reliever Jesse Orosco, was traded to the Mets in the off-season.

At best Baltimore is an old, ornery team that has an outside (very outside) shot at the wild card if everyone stays healthy. Cal Ripken Jr.'s bad back sidelined him for 76 games last season, but he did bat a career-high .340 and enters the season only nine hits shy of 3,000. Belle did not hit his 11th homer until June 15, but he did blast 26 from that point on. Clark, leftfielder B.J. Surhoff, DH Harold Baines and center-fielder Brady Anderson are all 35 or older, but each can still be a capable run producer. The righthanded quartet of Mike Mussina, Erickson (who will miss the season's first month while he recovers from elbow surgery), Sidney Ponson and Jason Johnson combined for 53 wins and gives the Orioles a solid group of starters.

"Our lineup isn't the problem," says DeShields. "And our rotation is good. Last year, if we had been able to close games, we would've won games. Joe Torre doesn't lose sleep with Mariano Rivera. The Padres don't lose sleep with Trevor Hoffman. I'm not pointing fingers, but...."

DeShields is referring, of course, to the Baltimore bullpen, which was gangrenous throughout most of 1999. After signing a lucrative free-agent contract, closer Mike Timlin had 27 saves and a 3.57 ERA, decent numbers that don't reveal the true horror of his season. In the first half of '99 Timlin was heinous, blowing eight of 19 save opportunities. The 34-year-old righty says several factors—among them the pressure of his new four-year, $16 million deal and poor concentration—doomed him. "I was terrible, terrible, terrible," says Timlin, who did rebound to save 18 of his last 19 chances. "My mental game wasn't correct. I didn't focus. I couldn't get anyone out."

That goes for the entire relief corps, most of whom were gagged, cuffed, stuffed in a trunk and dumped into Inner Harbor after blowing 25 saves and 27 games. Timlin is back, but no other reliever was with the team at the start of last year. The new bullpen—which features new setup man Mike Trombley (24 saves in 30 chances with the Twins in '99) and former A's middleman Buddy Groom (four straight seasons of at least 70 appearances)—might not boast a Rivera or a Hoffman, but it is much more solid. It is also well-balanced, with three lefthanders and four righties.

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